“All truth is simple… is that not a double lie?” Friedrich Nietzsche

Happiness is…

Pleasure. Felicity. Nirvana. Contentment. Joy. Glee. Delight. Gladness. Enchantment.

Call it whatever we want, but we all want it.

And we’ve heard all the clichés.

Happiness is… puppies; kittens; babies; home; hugs; love; family; money

a loving family; or just chocolate. That is, happiness is life’s simple pleasures (and the simpler the better).


Unless it’s not simple.

There are happiness authors, happiness religions, happiness clinics, happiness therapists, happiness gurus, and even happiness critics.

Happiness critics aren’t just ill-tempered people. They don’t deny that there is such a thing as happiness. And they aren’t just grumpy people out to ruin everyone’s fun.

They’re telling us that happiness isn’t always normal.

Or, it isn’t what others tell us happiness is.

If we have a problem the standard, everyday advice is to study and concentrate and focus on that problem. But see a problem? We’re told to obsess.

More information, better information, even happier information won’t help us be happy. Telling us that we’re—deep down—special, wired or not for happiness, won’t make us happy. And obsessing only helps, well, obsessing.

If we’re unhappy, we tell ourselves to be happy or not to be unhappy (either way, the response is unhelpful). We study and concentrate and focus on being happy and/or unhappy.

We probably don’t want to be unhappy (excluding some masochistic tendency), but when we buy-into the idea of happiness—any idea of happiness – we become a slave to that idea of happiness, and our own unhappiness.

It’s all a fight – a fight with ourselves, about ourselves.

And we’re still unhappy. And we probably should be (but for the wrong reasons).

Difficulties, and even pain, are normal, but suffering from pain isn’t normal.

What if caring about happiness means we have to live with unhappiness? What if this isn’t because of God or providence or karma or moral necessity or punishment?

Why not question happiness?

We can be happy. But we may not be happy without also being unhappy. What if they’re not mutually exclusive? That means giving up on the simplest idea of happiness—that it’s the absence of unhappiness.

We aren’t going to be happy by avoiding unhappiness.

So instead of asking why we’re not happy, we might want to rewrite what happiness means for us. Not that happiness is or isn’t a good thing, but it’s time to create our own experience of happiness.

Happiness is, after all, just a word. It’s not that we don’t care or shouldn’t care. But that we can hold happiness loosely; not casually or carelessly, but loosely.

How loosely?

We’ve all seen the bronze figures of a fat bald robed man, often with a cloth sack, prayer lanyard or beggar’s bowl (showing a lack of possessions). He’s often seated, with his belly protruding to be rubbed for luck.

And he’s always smiling or laughing.

The Laughing Buddha (Ho-tei in Japan, Pu-tai in China) is a story of a wandering, pleasant, contented monk who prayed, wandered, was obviously well fed himself and happily gave candy and donuts to children. Chinese tradition describes him as eccentric, Zen Buddhism says he’s the example of the possibility of real happiness on earth.

Sometimes he’s poor and happy, holding loosely his cloth bag of candy. Occasionally he sits on a mound of gold coins (and he’s happy then too). Not sure about the Laughing Buddha? Try Santa Claus.

Contentment and abundance—in a nearly naked, obese, laughing monk. He shows no desire to be gather worshipping students but gave treats to children who gathered around him in play.

It’s not that simple, obviously, but he taught with his laughter. Laughter and candy.

Is it any wonder we want to rub his tummy?

But now it’s time to question happiness.

One hundred pockets…

Nietzsche_1882-59d83beeaad52b0010eb91ccIf a man has a great deal
to put in them,
as Friedrich would say,
a day will have a hundred pockets;
and that’s another way
of saying it’s up to you,
the day, that is,
life, that is,
to acquire what may be
known, what may
be enjoyed,
with an appetite insatiable,
to possess but not deny,
for knowing is not
a zero sum game of have
and have not,
but an unending feast for the starving,
and we are all, always,

How we do things with words…

Only Words

The Philosopher says there are only words,
only ways of saying what can’t be said
about things like toast and coffee and love
and you and us, and somehow this should
make me feel better about how my words
trail off into air, into nothingness, but
when they were spoken, even thoughtlessly,
they were loud and important and true,
and the games we played with our words
that excited us then we reminisce over now,
those lisps of titles, and the laughs which
are certainly words and not just noises,
when a simple yes was amatory and
I waited to hear your voice say my name.

Nietzsche’s pockets…


If a man has a great deal
to put in them,
as Friedrich would say,
a day will have a hundred pockets;
and that’s another way
of saying it’s up to you,
the day, that is,
life, that is,
to acquire what may be
known, what may
be enjoyed,
with an appetite insatiable,
covetous to possess but not deny,
for knowing is not
a zero sum game of have
and have not,
but an unending feast for the starving,
and we are all, always,

Wow and other words of love…

sle-love-is-heartWe all like to assume we’re good at something like or close to or approximating that strange thing that makes the world go ’round – love.

There are a few of us, in sad and lonely moments, who would decry this, and make ourselves unlovable thereby in a self-fulfilling prophecy of self-loathing.

You see, those who talk incessantly about love often do not know what love is.

And for the rest this ignorance is too painful to contemplate.

And when someone wants to quiz or test you about your love – it’s quality or degree or sincerity – that’s the cue to abandon all hope. The relationship (if there ever was one) is over – at least in terms of love.

All this is to say that love is one thing, and talking about love is another altogether. I do not pretend to comprehend either.


Nietzsche said “Love, too, has to be learned”
and we started with our first by teaching her
to say, ‘Wow’ – kissing lips opening as a fish
with a slow, drawn-out ow-ow-ow between
the magical w’s; it’s a word that goes around
itself, a palindrome to embarrass all others
and she loved – absolutely loved – the joyful
surprise on adult faces as she so carefully
pronounced, over-and-over again, her word
of wonder until she broke into a smile and the
Wow’s had to stop because upturned corners
of the mouth break into the world of wows
as if competing for delight, and it took her
learned discipline to recapture the lips which
would say her wonderful word, and we’re
awed, every day, she knows what it means.

Love and Anything

It’s an affront to the totality
of love to place a conjunction with it;
demeaning all other reality,
by simply linking ‘and’ in transit.

Love refuses rivals,
with passive opposition it denies
challengers their titles;
a simple tie sacrifices the prize.

Adding anything in place
by union with the fame of one word,
counting all else as base,
with a simply conjunction’s embrace.

Try it; put up for debate,
‘Love and’ anything will degrade;
‘and’ sex, food, marriage, even hate,
this fall is impossible to evade.

To say ‘and life’ is sad,
as if it’s worthy without the former;
to claim ‘and war’ is had
only by ignoring hate in the warrior.

For love changes all,
concurring sum with a simple ‘and’
casting this pall
over juxtaposed allegiances banned.

The lesson is clear,
that love suffers no fool gladly,
intolerant as severe
treating all pretenders badly.

Earnest Ernest…

ernestsourceAdmit it. Go ahead. Ernest’s brevity is likable. His ‘iceberg’ style (we only see the tip, the rest omitted). His blunt staccato plainness. Clarity. Boldness. Beginning, middle, end.

We’re also fascinated by his life – his glorious, extravagant, tragic life.

Ernest Hemingway gave us the stuff writers write about. Great stories, great quips, great insults and brevity. There’s even an app that will transform writing into bold, clear (short) sentences in the style of the man (

What we can know about him is easy enough to digest (, even as we’re forced to reckon with his larger than life personal story. But there’s just so much that’s fun and sad and odd and tragic about Ernest – it’s hard to ignore.

With that in mind, here are several prompts I blame on Hemingway (I have another, but it’s too long – Ernest wouldn’t like that).

The first is the legend of the six word story (telling a complete story is just six words). In true Hemingway fashion, the prompt is a test, which I fail every day but wrote a poem about anyway.

Six Word Story

The legend is about Hemingway
and therefore it takes place in a bar
over drinks (always plural) and a bet
whether he could write a story in six
words: six words, no more, no less.
This is Hemingway, for god sake
of narrow minds, narrower streets!
Mr. write drunk, edit sober himself;
making economy an understatement.
Six words might be two too many,
as in “To hell with luck.”
Or just the one if he goes with
“Courage is grace under pressure.”
But ‘You’re beautiful, like a may fly’
meets the expectation, just barely,
and I can imagine its usefulness.
No one knows how many drinks
it took to come up with the winner:
‘For sale, baby shoes, never used’
and damn if it doesn’t make me cry.


How many of us have wished we could have known Hemingway personally, at least for a part of his life? I have.


Every writer wishes,
wishes he would have
known Hemingway, at
least for a day, sometime
after Old Man and the
Sea and before the Clinic,
between young, pure
desire and the paranoid
cynic; but not in Africa
for when that story’s
told the pain of failed
flights get’s old and
undoes the personality
of liquor, staccato and
brevity; oh Ernest what
had become that was
undone in Ketchum.


When Hemingway was asked about writing he said it was quite easy really: “Just sit at a typewriter and bleed.” And another kindred spirit named Nietzsche offered “Of all that is written, I love only what a person hath written with his blood. Write with blood, and thou wilt find that blood is spirit.” So, for Ernest and Friedrich…

Bleed Boss, Bleed

Sit at a typewriter and bleed
seems overly dramatic advice
to an aspiring author, wouldn’t
you agree; hardly earnest enough
but perfectly understandable in
the intentional fallacy of readers
who have written little beyond
school papers forced upon them;
maybe he thought an echo of
Friedrich’s love for blood sport
and spirit would exorcise the
critic possessed which mutes
all hope of truth, for blood alone
does not lie but readers do;
maybe the dissatisfaction with
bloodless words since his first
farewell haunted every safari
and salon conversation, maybe
another wound would draw
blood – magnificently silencing
the stupefying demons of timidity;
all doubt such romance because
papa’s own daddy cared less
himself, but why would he load
his favorite Boss with two when
he knew perfectly well that
one would be sufficient?